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Start-up Weekend: Put Your Time Where Your Mouth Is

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I received an email yesterday from a New Havener excited for the coming start-up weekend. She has an idea for a mobile application that will tie in with a previously developed local mapping resource. Her question was around the feasibility of building the project in one weekend and if it should be a native app.

The app that she is looking to build can easily be built in a weekend by a junior web developer thanks to the Google Maps API. It does not need to be a native mobile app thanks to Javascript, Google Maps v3 and html5. It's that same API that I was able to create a proof of concept and arguably "minimum viable product" version of SeeClickFix. Really, my co-founders, Kam and Jeff, created the MVP but I got pretty close with amateur developer skills. Our use of that API and the growth of SeeClickFix has but us in the thankful but sometimes uncomfortable position of being one of the 0.35% of platforms (those with more than 25K map loads/day) that will have to pay Google for their API service come January. (A blog on dependance on open API's coming soon.)

In the email there were questions about the business viability of the product and I wanted to address that question more thoroughly here. Spoiler: I do not answer those questions.

Start-up weekend is about sitting down and putting your time (at least one weekend) where your mouth is. It's about doing the same thing that the SeeClickFix founders and so many like us did when they launched their ideas. Start-up weekend is a great place for those with a hunch to create the test. Do you have a hunch that your idea might improve someone else's life or fill the demand of a business or organization? No business plan or financial modeling will tell you 100% if you're right so why not build it? Why not do it at start-up weekend?

SeeClickFix was only a thought four years ago this Thanksgiving. Today it is in the top 1% of websites making use of the Google Maps API. We had a hunch that we would scale. We didn't know for sure if it would have a revenue model or if we even wanted to quit our day jobs and make a business of it. We did know that SeeClickFix would solve a problem that least one of the co-founders was having. In about four hours we had a product that allowed our friends to express similar frustrations. In three months, with four co-founders, all with other day jobs, we had a minimum viable project for others to use that proved our hunch correct.

Since the launch of SCF we've had many more hunches about what would be useful. We are constantly reminding ourselves to not be over certain of our hunches without testing. We try to remind ourselves to "release early and often" and learn from where we were right or wrong...just like an experiment. None of this is ground breaking for those in start-ups but it may be for those attending a start-up weekend for the first time. This process is relatively unfamiliar to the traditional business world.

My thoughts for start-up weekenders and potential start-up weekenders:

1) This is not a business competition. This is a science experiment.
2) Don't overthink things. Worry about solving one problem, no matter how simple.
3) If you're having fun, and you like your team and others find what you've built useful, set a recurring meeting time to work on the project every weekend.
4) We are arguably in one of the greatest periods of innovation in history. The number of possibilities for creation has increased exponentially in the past 15 years and you should be a part of it. Your great grandparents would be jealous and your great grand children may be too.

Find out about start-up weekends near you.

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